In a week
featuring a mix of non-con residue and many conference openers,
there was much more quality action and competition than most
anticipated. Those who had inspected the seemingly mediocre
slate of games likely felt that this would be a lull week.
But there were overtime games galore to reemphasize this year's
ongoing theme of parity.
hits home when we break down the schematic outlined by ABC's
halftime crew, with John Saunders and Co. making it clear
for all at the midway point of the Texas A&M-Pittsburgh
game. Follow the logic here - Wazzu lost to Notre Dame, and
then the Irish lost to Michigan, which in turn resolved to
Oregon smacking the Wolverines, only to see Oregon have their
heads handed to them at home by Wazzu Saturday 55-16. Any
night opened the week's games as Nebraska stated its case
for why the boys from Lincoln are back in full stride. They
went into Hattiesburg and dominated Southern Mississippi by
forcing five turnovers for a 38-14 win. USM used to be a defensive
power and would have surely had more for the Cornhuskers if
the 11th ranked defense from 2001 or the 34th ranked defense
from 2002 were still present. But the 77th nationally ranked
defense has little chance when the Golden Eagle offense makes
so many miscues.
was finally exposed for their inflated USA/ESPN #23 ranking.
The Tigers, against paltry competition so far, were sporting
the 52nd ranked defense. This level of play was ostensibly
inadequate as we saw the Tigers exploited against the nation's
#4 offense in the efficient Jayhawks. My touting of this Missouri
team was premature. But offensive balance was seen in senior
RB Zack Abron quality efforts taking pressure off their signal
caller, so endowed QB Brad Smith could make more of his chances.
But all of the credit goes to Mark Mangino and his entire
squad's defensive achievement - Missouri had only 13 first
downs and 196 yards.
State-Minnesota tussle revealed two evident facts the Lions
had better note. Both points should not be made before properly
tipping our hats to the #16 Gopher's performance, which is
the real story here. Minnesota defensive coordinator Greg
Hudson's call to stack the middle of their line with down-linemen
(often) in standing positions forced any runs outside and
into the stunts their secondary ran. PSU gained ground yards,
but was thwarted in the second half at important junctures
and only got 14 points. This bending, but not breaking, was
the key to Minnesota's defensive presence.
when PSU QB Zach Mills went down with a knee injury, backup
Michael Robinson took over and showed why - as harped on by
me here for the last two weeks - Mills should remain sitting,
even if healthy. Robinson's 16-for-27 job, even with two INTs
and no TDs, cuts out well the work the sophomore has to do
for his real-game seasoning. But even a struggling start or
two more for Robinson would do second-half-of-the-season wonders
for the Nittany Lions. The second problem for PSU was clock
mismanagement, and it gleamed as the second half wound down.
Legendary head coach Joe Paterno couldn't figure out how to
make time work for him, instead choosing not to use any time
outs as Minnesota drove and wound the clock down with four-plus
minutes left. PSU got the ball back, but not until there was
2:21 left. Papa Joe could have used all three TOs to conceivably
conserve 75 seconds and make the Lion's end-game 4th-and-8
play at the Gopher's 13-yard line that much more-likely to
succeed. PSU had earned a first down with 25 seconds left,
so with that the clock stopped, right? Even with all that
extra time, PSU still had to call their second TO. Calling
a draw with under 30 seconds left was its own blunder of multiple
dimensions. Woefully inadequate for any top-tiered team, Penn
State had better reevaluate and introduce signs of the segue
we all know is coming when Paterno leaves. Not only is he
affecting PSU recruiting, but Joe also seems to be failing
the muster as the modern game still bypasses Happy Valley.
finally made the ending score reflect their high ranking.
In beating Northwestern 20-0, the Buckeye 27th ranked defense
finally dominated like they will need to when major Big Ten
play begins in earnest, for them in two weeks at Wisconsin.
But in the same way a team isn't ready for real competition
by stacking cream-puff non-cons into their season's first
half schedule, the Buckeyes similarly don't seem to be ready
for their tough away games due to starting out with five at
home. They have only shown up for one (soundly beat Washington
28-9 in opener), that is until Saturday. A good road test
should be enough to make this squad finally submit, but Ohio
State really runs hot-and-cold. No one can predict which traveling
Buckeye show will make the trip, so games at Wisconsin and
Michigan will likely make or break OSU's 2003 campaign. By
garnering only the 26th toughest rated strength-of-schedule
(NC.net ranking), OSU could be on the outside looking in (if
three or more teams are still vying in latter November).
came storming back to impress with their 24-21 road-win in
Lexington, Ky. Another curse came to bare as Jared Lorenzen
- recently, too, touted here for his clear pocket presence
- made one late mistake, an freakish INT, to give the game
to the Gators. Sorry, Jared, but just hold onto the ball next
time. Kentucky has problems beating UF (lost 17 straight),
and had an 18-point lead in the fourth to boot. Kentucky is
stigmatized by the Gators in a very similar fashion to how
FSU is taken with Miami. Leading at halftime for the first
time since the 1988 game, UK found ways to give the Gators
the win. What happened when we got bonus coverage to see this
live as the score went to 24-21? Without knowing how this
one would end, ESPN just as suddenly pulled out, leaving us
hung out to dry for any possible closing heroics.
unfortunately is on the proverbial football map with their
surprising 6-6 effort last year. Major programs are taking
the Huskies more seriously in their fourth I-A season after
many overlooked them the past three. Virginia Tech took no
chances as they whipped Connecticut 47-13. VT controlled both
sides of the ball when needed to prove they've earned their
#5 national position.
and A&M put on the best show all day. An even battle was
decided on the superior abilities of Panther phenom WR Larry
Fitzgerald. Double-, triple- and even quadruple-team Aggie
coverage schemes couldn't deny the best current player in
college football. Fitzgerald decoyed, blocked, and took much
physical abuse as he ultimately made the difference in this
important non-conference matchup. Mistakes by both squads
left the 37-26 final score up in the air until big #1 separated
Pittsburgh with his highlight-reel-worthy over-the shoulder
49-yard TD snare with 7:13 left in the game. If you didn't
see this one live, you surely will soon, unless the rock you
live under doesn't get cable. Give A&M's speedy backfield
credit for making Pitt earn this one only late. Even when
starting Aggie QB Reggie McNeal went down, junior Josh Long
- his backup, the season's original starter - revitalized
A&M's sagging troops for a late surge before Fitzgerald's
deflating blow made it 37-20. Look out for freshman Aggie
RB sensation Courtney Lewis
he and junior Derek Farmer
form as good a pair as in any backfield I have seen, complimenting
each other (and the deceptively quick McNeal) perfectly -
no team can mark three lightning bolts at once. Pitt had luck
on their side that this element wasn't what decided things.
pulled the week's ultimate upset in triple OT as they ousted
USC 34-31 in Berkeley. But many of us saw Cal coming, as all
of the Golden Bear's quality performances have been televised
so far (versus Oregon State this week isn't). Cal's tough
road workouts (at Kansas City to take on KSU - 42-28 loss,
at Utah - 31-24 loss, and at Illinois - 31-24 win) have callused
them for just such an upset. Southern Cal's 11-game win streak
and #3 ranking were both dashed when they couldn't block a
third Cal field goal in the third OT. The opening OT period
was a scoreless roller-coaster - Trojan RB Hershel Dennis'
fumble was lost right after he had brought his team to the
two-yard line on the first two plays of the extended play.
Not to be denied so soon, USC then blocked a 30-yard FGA,
their second of the game, to extend the battle again. And,
after that, then again. The third overtime was a Golden charm,
with the Bears first home victory over a Top Fiver since 1975,
when they similarly upset then-#4 Southern Cal 28-14. Everyone
stayed until the end, tearing down goalposts in exuberance.
The boisterous Berkeley fan-base extended all the way to "Tightwad
Hill", a free gathering outside Memorial Stadium just
above one endzone where the banner clad Golden Bear-backers
reside and consort. The Trojans WR Mike Williams was spectacular,
but not a difference maker when most needed. We will revisit
this game again.
simultaneous overtime fracas was occurring in Tuscaloosa.
'Bama had their hands full, even as they were ahead of Arkansas
31-10 in the middle of the third. But the Crimson Tide evidently
hasn't learned enough yet through past 2003 heartbreakers
to avoid more painful mistakes. After 'Bama senior FS Charles
Jones' INT held Arkansas scoreless in the initial OT, an excessive
celebration penalty - for just normally excited behavior,
nothing more, really - made 'Bama start their OT drive from
the 40, not the 25. The Crimson Tide subsequently missed their
38-yard FGA, and was defeated in the next frame as a Razorback
field goal offset Brodie Coyle's INT for the win.
an armor-chinked Alabama group that was 2-2 going in, Arkansas'
victory assures the Hogs remain the Rodney Dangerfields of
college football. Face it - asked to identify the SEC west's
best school, most fail to pick Arkansas. Yet in the last five
years, they are their division's top team. The Hogs' 39 wins
is two better than 'Bama and six better than either Auburn
or LSU during that span. Their SEC-best 29-5 home record eclipses
runner-up Tennessee by two wins, and 19 straight non-conference
road wins is the current SEC standard, as is Arkansas' 14
straight home wins. Besides sneaking up on all by winning
the SEC west last year, two big road wins against blue-chip
programs ('Bama and Texas) in 2003 haven't even brought the
Razorbacks to any BCS conversations. "I tell ya
can't get no respect, these Hogs." It seems to build
more character in them each time they are ignored, so the
players don't mind this oversight. This team could possibly
fly under most radar all the way to New Orleans.
overtime game I saw was South Carolina-Tennessee. The Gamecocks
had allowed only 15 second half yards at the 3:00 mark of
the third quarter to signature their dominating performance.
But the USC 'D' only got them to the OT period; it couldn't
finish the deal, though. We did see why Lou Holtz is possibly
the greatest active college football chief - he is the only
coach ever to take six different teams to bowl appearances.
It is precisely this mettle that he instills in his troops
which stops powerhouses like the Volunteers (held Tennessee
to 266 total yards, well under the 420-plus they had averaged
games seen here (in Pittsburgh) revealed a point which has
little proof backing it, but is rather valid and clear to
the educated fan. It seems that when evaluating competition,
from the middle to the top of specific BCS conferences, we
can see which are better and worse as of now. Tennessee-South
Carolina, Florida-Kentucky and Alabama-Arkansas, as well as
USC-California, Mizzu-Kansas and Wake Forest-Virgina - all
reflected quality play and few mistakes that make the SEC,
Pac-Ten, ACC and Big XII appear strong. These games exemplified
much better overall play than the Ohio State-Northwestern,
Wisconsin-Illinois, Iowa-Michigan State, Penn State-Minnesota
and/or Michigan-Indiana games did. The Big Ten glaringly seems
to be the most lacking of all the major conferences when breaking
down mean quality comparisons. My point is hypothetical -
an average Pac-Ten, SEC, ACC or Big XII team would beat the
Big Ten's mid-rangers. My analysis proves nothing and holds
even less water, but I do not back off of this as a prognostication.
Stay tuned on this one
Bowl games could be my final (un)doing
on this one.
Illinois is fighting the uphill battle last fought by Tulane
in 1998. A non-BCS school is again undeniably one of the nation's
elite. Northern Ill. has beaten three BCS-conference foes,
defensively whomping these respectable programs as they visit.
This is how a young Bobby Bowden put FSU on the map. But,
as witnessed before, the deck is stacked against them. Ironically
enough, the Tulane-led lawsuit attempting to force the inclusion
of non -BCS schools into the championship mix could be just
the thing. Not needing to be resolved to promote change, just
the suit's pending status could be enough to make poll voters
concede one of the two wild-card bids to this MAC power, if
they can stay undefeated. Such a concession could legally
go a long way in helping the BCS to prove their claim - that
they have no ostensible bias against smaller schools. I don't
think the Huskies would have any problem being a pawn if the
BCS chooses to play things this way. But let them make it
through their strong conference slate - games at Toledo and
at Bowling Green should be the proving grounds described.
Most of the country is rooting for this dark horse.
State had their defense tested, but their 36th ranked unit
gave up yards instead of points. With strong California, Washington
and Wazzu squads on their immediate horizon, the Beavers have
their work cut out for them. RB Steven Jackson will always
run well, so it is the defensive variable that will dictate
any OSU team success(es)
Notre Dame is one of the biggest disappointments so far, huh.
With that "Worst Coast" offense, the Irish do not
look to be improving anytime soon - games at both Pitt and
Boston College, and home vies with Southern Cal and Florida
State will possibly keep their October (and first week in
In the Longhorn-Green Wave game, we heard a Detroit Lion scout
detail why seeing his mark, Tulane QB J.P. Losman, from field
level was paramount to just sitting in the press box. Observing
Losman this way, he said, reveals leadership qualities and
inter-personal skills so important to team chemistry needs
at any level. J.P. impressed
LSU had early troubles before getting on track to defeat Mississippi
State 41-6. Hot-and-cold running Bayou Bengal QB Matt Mauck
had best improve his inconsistent ways - if the Bulldogs can
give LSU's passing game the trouble it did, then it is only
a matter of time until LSU's lofty ranking comes to an end
Oregon FS Keith Lewis has now blocked a punt in three consecutive
In beating Louisiana-Lafayette 44-23, North Texas earned an
NCAA record-tying three safeties
Does Wisconsin ever run out of 1000-yard rushers? Now they
seem to have two - Anthony Davis and Dwayne Smith - that could
reach the mark, hopefully each not canceling out the others
efforts this way. So long as they keep winning, Barry Alvarez
could surely care less
Auburn's win over I-AA Western Kentucky won't make anyone
think they are back
For the first time in a long time, there is no clear-cut favorite
to win any of the major conferences. Ah, October and November,
our favorite months.